Jessica Stern

Archive for 2013|Yearly archive page

The War Against Terror Must Be Fought With Words Too

In News on September 26, 2013 at 9:19 am

Margaret Thatcher famously referred to publicity as the oxygen on which terrorists depend. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who replaced Osama bin Laden as the leader of al-Qaeda, agrees, claiming that his organization and its enemies are “in a race for the hearts and minds of our umma [the Muslim community]” and that more than half the war is taking place on the “battlefield of the media.” Their goal is to spread a false narrative — that the West aims to humiliate Muslims and destroy Islam. We who aim to stop them have been slow to respond with a counternarrative — that jihadists are killing innocents, the vast majority of whom are Muslim; that they are exploiting vulnerable youth as cannon fodder; that jihad is not an adventure; and that our goal is to fight terrorists, not to harm Muslims or disrespect Islam.

So it was long overdue when the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) announced it would be launching a media campaign called “Think Again” aimed at English speakers considering joining jihadist groups. An earlier effort in Arabic, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu appears to be successful. Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, involved in developing the original campaign, says, “We could see that the bad guys were watching and were concerned” that the videos could harm their recruitment drives. The new campaign signals the CSCC’s recognition that they must also target American or European would-be jihadists with Western passports.

Read Jessica’s article on Time Ideas: The War Against Terror Must Be Fought With Words Too 

Jessica Talks at the GRID13 Summit in Stockholm

In News on September 11, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Jessica presents “Talking to Terrorists” at the 2013 annual GRID two-day summit in Stockholm.  In the talk, she describes how she has met terrorists with Kalashnikovs in Pakistan, interviewed neo-Nazis in America and Sweden, and visited the homes of terrorist leaders in Indonesia. But it was only after she faced her own suppressed trauma that she understood why she was more afraid to meet the victims than the terrorists themselves.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Terrorists

In News, Op-Ed on April 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm

A few times, I have felt myself in the presence of true evil. At those times, I learned what it means to have the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s not just an expression. It happened to me when I met with a leader who recruited cannon fodder for his “jihad,” and on a few other occasions in the last couple decades that I’ve spent interviewing terrorists to learn why they do what they do. But, more often, the evil I’ve witnessed has been banal. I have found myself able to understand the mistaken moral logic that can turn a boy into a terrorist.

Here’s a surprising thing. Almost everywhere — in Pakistan, in Indonesia, in Texas — terrorists offer you tea. Sometimes a full meal.

Otherwise, they are quite different from one another. Their motivations vary — from irredentism, to pleasing the God they claim to worship, to cleansing the Earth of the mud-people that contaminate the world of purity in their minds. Some live in war zones with grievances that are easy for outsiders to grasp; for others, living in the cushy West, the war that is taking place is principally in their own minds, often over identity. Some are paid, some are blackmailed. Some are recruited, and some recruit themselves to their own holy war, whether at home or far away.

Read Jessica’s article on talking with terrorists in Foreign Policy.

Iraq: Where Terrorists Go to School

In News, Op-Ed on April 26, 2013 at 2:23 pm

The costs of the terrorism inspired by the war include much more than the number, however horrifying, of lives lost. The terrorists who have been drawn to Iraq since 2003 and survived have been battle-hardened after fighting the most sophisticated military in history, often working together with former officials from Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. They have developed expertise in counterintelligence, gunrunning, forgery and smuggling. Smuggling routes and alliances that moved terrorists and supplies into Iraq during the height of the war, in 2006-7, have been reversed, allowing fighters and supplies to flow into neighboring countries, particularly Syria, now in its third year of civil war.

Read Jessica’s article in The New York Times.

The Costs of the Moral Injury to Our Troops Fighting the Wars on Terrorism

In News, Op-Ed on February 28, 2013 at 3:00 am

Those who volunteer to defend their country know they are putting their lives at risk.  But the troops and their families are only just beginning to understand the extent to which they are putting their mental health at risk.  As we get better at keeping wounded warriors alive, we need to get better, and more serious, about developing tools for healing the injuries to the mind and brain that are often at least as destructive as more visible wounds.

Read Jessica’s Op-Ed at the Hoover Institution website.


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